July 27, 2022 | Diversity & Access

A Data Scientist’s Next Career Experiment: Investing at Costanoa

Madison Hawkinson

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Madison Hawkinson

As a data scientist, the framing of experimentation is the lens through which I view the world. Whether it’s A/B testing ad personalization at Facebook, experimenting with sourcing algorithms at Greycroft or leading product pricing experiments at Thrasio, I’m all about experimentation. So I’m excited about the launch of my biggest experiment to date: joining the investment team at Costanoa Ventures as a fellow. 

In this new role, I’m continuing to expand my scope in data science to a bird’s eye view of the industry.  I am eager to identify not only the tailwinds driving the future of data science and AI, but also to focus on fixing the inefficiencies operators face. These are problems that are greater than any one data scientist. They are best tackled by founders across industries, who serve as catalysts for problem solutions. 

More specifically, I’m evaluating my career experiment through the following outcomes: 

Quantifying the opportunity set of data-enabled companies.

The opportunity is massive. Building in the data, data science and applied AI industries is BROKEN.  There are immense challenges to building in this space, from the imposter syndrome and high barrier to entry, the lack of diversity and retention, the frustration of building in siloes without knowledge sharing, and the data education gaps that exist across the industry.  Venture capital needs more technical operators who deeply understand the problem space and have empathy for the end user.  I’m eager to support new applications of data, data science and AI across industries, but also to help technical experts who are pushing these industries forward. 

I’m also deeply passionate about the capabilities that new technologies can unlock. New research and algorithms are unlocking the ability to build solutions that weren’t possible even a few years ago. The operationalization of shapley enables explainable AI to answer previously unanswerable questions and build better data products. Productionization of simple forecasting technologies and data platforms helps us estimate ideal inventory levels or predict agricultural output. Blockchain infrastructure will eradicate silly data issues we historically spent years solving by creating sources of truth and enabling data quality, privacy and eliminating fraud.  

Learning leadership from people I already respect and trust. 

I’ve known Costanoa as a firm for years. From my external view, I respect their thoughtful and high conviction decisions driven by technical rigor and integrity. They lean in as operators and lend every resource they have to build with entrepreneurs. This is a team I can learn from on the dimensions of leadership, strategy, humility, technical expertise, and integrity.  In venture, hype and momentum can lead to overblown valuations and inconsistent decision making. I appreciate that Costanoa strives to be grounded, cautious and patient. 

Fostering diversity across industries. 

As a young female engineer trying to break into data science at both Stanford and Facebook, it took courage to specialize in engineering and battle through imposter syndrome. Although I’ve been privileged, I have empathy for diverse founders and get excited by crazy ideas.  I’ve always been a strong believer in the Medici Effect: that the greatest innovation is created at the intersections of various fields and the sharing of concepts between them. 

The value proposition of supporting diversity has never been higher! A recent research paper estimates that underinvestment in diversity may have driven as much as $900M in inefficiently spent capital.  Deep tech’s opportunity to drive value creation primarily rests at the intersection between different fields by diverse people and perspectives and will empower innovations in industries such as fashion, policy and manufacturing. 

Adding value when I partner with entrepreneurs. 

The most consistent and satisfying hobby of my career thus far has been spending my free time helping entrepreneurs.  I’ve spent years supporting entrepreneurship organizations at various universities and felt frustrated that I can’t devote more time to supporting incredible people who are putting everything on the line to build the change they want to see in the world. I’m eager to make this a full time focus, and continue to parameter tune how I can be an effective and impactful support system for people across industries and fields. 

Early stage building can be lonely and having a support system can be the difference between giving up and pushing on. While most venture capitalists are not direct people managers, I’ve found that the engineering management skillset transfers over well to coaching startup leaders. 

As I embark on this journey, experimentation is at the core of my decision making framework. I’m eager to find and tackle hard problems with entrepreneurs across data, infrastructure, data science, developer tools, and applied AI, and I’m excited to do it at Costanoa. Find me on LinkedIn and Twitter – I can’t wait to hear your ideas.

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